Apr 21, 2021

Fall 1977: Jerry Garcia Interview

GARCIA ON GARCIA '77

When the Grateful Dead applied to the federal government's overseas tours program, designed to certify groups for cultural exchange, they were asked to submit a tape of their work. When the votes were tallied, Seals and Croft and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were deemed appropriate for export, but the Dead didn't make it. Rock critic Robert Christgau made an impassioned plea, attempting to explain that, "well, something happens when this group performs that doesn't occur elsewhere;" that, as the bumper sticker on the inside of the toilet lid at the group's San Rafael office announces, "There is Nothing Like a Grateful Dead Concert."
The band has long frustrated even their most ardent fans. Their concerts have never been about the presentation of polished product, but the development and disruption of musical process. The band's shows are stumbling, meandering, then shimmering displays, as the instruments wander off on various tangents, often at seeming cross-purposes, eventually meshing with astonishing grace. The thread of curiosity and reassurance is always Jerry Garcia's guitar; sketching musical ideas, weaving elegant filigrees - as Charles Perry put it, "like an extended meditation on the koan, 'whatever's right.'" There are times, though, when the music wanders so far off into anarchy and excess, that any reunion of forces would seem impossible.
In recent years, the Dead's career seemed to be careening, like a terminal jam, towards disarray and failure. After scoring a gold disc for their Europe '72 LP, they mounted a gargantuan sound system, and formed their own record company. Their subsequent albums were increasingly tepid and unfocused, as the scale of operations seemed to swamp the group. For awhile it looked as though the planet was going to have to kiss the Grateful Dead goodbye.
In 1974, the Dead, with notable fanfare, retired, soon after releasing a double live album from their farewell concerts of such poor quality, that many wondered if it was a departure worth mourning. Their studio offering of the period was the dense jazz-inflected Blues for Allah, which sounded like a voyage into an uncharted cul-de-sac.
In 1977, though - a decade after the release of their first album - the band was back at Winterland, playing with all the shambling grandeur that ever took folks' breath away.
In the dressing room, after they had debuted a stunning version of "Terrapin Station," Bill Graham squatted on his haunches, wearing a sweatshirt with the sleeves pushed up; the coach congratulating the home team.
"Look, I've watched at these concerts," he confided intently. "I've watched these crowds, and I don't care who it is - The Doobies, The Eagles...they do a new number and" - he shrugs - "nothing. It isn't until they've been taught by the radio - programmed that the song is important - that they'll give you that response."
Garcia, cigarette in hand, nodding behind his red shades, looking bewildered and bemused, interrupted - "but you ride for that charge..."
"Exactly," Graham replied. "And what I'm saying is that you connected. The way that crowd responded to 'Terrapin' - amazing. You really hit it."
Jerry smiled faintly and nodded some more.
Graham was right. In 1977 the Dead came out of the bone garden smelling like a rose.
In a prophetic interview with Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter back in 1971, the discussion turned to the political forces of the day, and Garcia noted that wartime provided the artist with a useful pressure; a presence to lean against. "In peacetime," he said, "I don't know what you write..." Hunter answered, "I guess you write orchestral music." With Terrapin, The Dead released their first album with a producer at the helm, and their first orchestrated work as well. It has become their first "gold" record since Europe '72.
For many, Garcia is not only the figurehead of the Dead, but a quasi-mystical guru figure as well. Many forget that Robert Hunter writes all his lyrics. It is not a confusion that Garcia has sought, but it prompted me to ask him for his thoughts on the state of the nation. He was frank.
"It's totally fucked... Something and somebody is denying the possibility that we can totally fuck up the world, and it's just going ahead. That's depressing. It gives you the feeling of, whatever it is humans are supposed to be doing is not clear. Like, are we supposed to fuck up the earth, or are we supposed to save it, or what? And if we're supposed to save it, why aren't people flashing on that immediately and doing what they can?"
I had to interject, "but Jerry, you smoke cigarettes--"
"I know," he answered, "and until the world gets to be a better place, I'm gonna continue to do it."
Well, if Garcia is an avatar, it's certainly not as a logician, but with much more justification, as a musician; undoubtedly the most important and original guitarist the Bay Area has ever produced. Thus, our conversation centered around his musical ideas and projects, both with and without The Grateful Dead. I also wanted to know more about 'doing what one can,' and how that unique beast, The Grateful Dead, can account for their alarmingly erratic work, and seemingly abrupt renaissance, over the past five years.

* * *

We met at the Dead's office, an unassuming split-level house in the Marin hills. Garcia had been up late recording, and while I waited for him, I had ample time to take in the view. A picture window looked out on a parched hill with a private road carved up the side. A large desk faced the stoneware fireplace; on the mantelpiece sat two empty French wine bottles, a wind-up duck, a plastic horse skull, and a globe. An American flag hung on the wall. A rose colored sofa faced a low table piled with music-trade magazines. On the wall, a bulletin board was quilted with telegrams, clippings, and an occasional snapshot.
There was a telegram of congratulations from Sandy Alexander and the New York Hell's Angels, next to a policy statement from Bill Graham noting that, "As of April 13, 1977, Hell's Angels should be treated as just regular patrons..."
A clipping from Variety announcing that The Grateful Dead Movie was the "champ newcomer, looking at a smash 40G," had a note attached exulting, "the figure is bullshit, but it's great publicity for us." A review of the film from the New York Times noted, "Aural excitement is pitted against visual monotony. Monotony wins."
A mailgram from Virginia read, "Finally heard the finished version of Terrapin Station. I cannot begin to describe to you the joy of the experience. My hat goes up, my heart goes out to you. You got me again. Please keep New Years Eve open for now. Love and Cheers, Bill Graham."
Garcia arrived sporting the inevitable blue jeans and black tee-shirt. We headed to the loft above, which serves as manager Richard Loren's office. It was late afternoon, Indian summer, and I was hoping the talk would go well. I was counting on what dependable Bill Graham had said: "Jerry Garcia is one of the very few people I know in this business who has achieved great success and remained a true gentleman."
Over the next two and a half hours Garcia spoke with warm enthusiasm and modesty. He was disarmingly open; never refusing to answer a question, or failing to consider a criticism without rankling. In this business, I promise you, that is rare. I left liking the man, and wishing him the best of luck. In fact, if I were in Bob Christgau's place, I'd probably put in a plea for his band myself.
--Adam Block 


We last chatted in the fall of 1974, before the "retirement" concerts. Then, you said that the superstructure was out of hand and you were ready to close down operations indefinitely. What was happening?

Well, that decision began nearly a year earlier, in late '73. We decided, "This isn't happening. We've gotta hang it up." Economically it wouldn't work; the way we were going about it had turned into a kind of a weird experience. It wasn't much fun, and we had about a year of decline; and then we had about six to nine months, during '74, working sketchily. We had to do a certain amount of material, just to put ourselves in a position where we could quit. We had to clean up the past and stuff. So that was the directionality.
We were all pretty depressed. If we were going to do it, we felt it should be fun; it should be the things we liked about it originally, and the things that we still wanted to have as part of the experience. It had turned into a thing that was out of our control, and nobody was really doing it because they liked it. We were doing it because we had to.

Did you foresee that possibility?

Oh yeah.

As almost of a function of hubris, having started your own record company?

No, stuff like that comes and goes.

You had, for one, the example of The Airplane...

But our trip has never been like theirs, and we've never been particularly involved in it. We were surprised to find that we would become involved in it, for other reasons. It wasn't really a conscious thing. I mean, we knew. We could see it coming. So, we started to make those plans to lay off, or at least have our energy somewhere else, or be different kinds of people; other things, other aspects of life.

Back in '74, you mentioned two grand schemes: first holographically-encoded, pyramid-shaped, miniature records...

Yeah, we were trying to do that, but like everything else, it fundamentally had to do with how much money you could spend on it. It's a fact of holography. I don't know who is pursuing it now, but I think that with video-recording, and digital recording advances, the idea may have already been amended.

You're ready to pass the idea on to others?

Yeah, I want to play. That's what I've always wanted to do, really. The fact that we got involved in all these other things was by default - because the way they worked, and the way they were, was not satisfactory and plainly sucked. So the possibility was: well, maybe if we get involved with it, and put our attention and energy in, we can make it more like the way we wish it were. But the truth of the matter was, that the mega-structure excludes the possibility.
It's not a local thing. It's not like, all you have to do to have alternate recording situations is just to be an alternate recording situation. It doesn't work that way, you still are dealing with polyvinyl-chloride, and all the other parts of what makes things weird. So rather than tilting at windmills, or dinosaurs - whatever metaphor you like - we just decided that the most important thing we could do was feel good and like what we're doing.

Your second scheme in '74 was a modular, or permanent, acoustically perfect hall.

That's another fantasy - a sound one - but like the others, with an element of unreality. We would do anything that anyone would let us do. That's what it boils down to, but we can't really afford to do much. We always operate at a loss. It doesn't matter whether we make huge amounts of money, or hardly anything. We just always function at a loss. Everybody accepts it, and it's not a complaint, but it's the truth. So, the nature of the kind of forces with which we're involved has as much to do with hanging together as human beings. The human level of it - that's from where the music springs. That's what has held us together, regardless of working or not working, making it or not making it. It's who we are in a whole other dimension. That's about all there is that we can work out effectively at the moment.
We have other ideas; and like I say, if they work, they work. If they don't, we just won't tell anybody about them. Right now, I don't have anything to call attention to. Our projects to date have been done and are out. We're starting on a different leg.

Can we ever expect to see your gargantuan sound system again?

No, we dumped it and I'll tell you why.
What we had in the big p.a. was a physical model of the size of the sound we were trying to create. In other words, the lowest note on a bass is 32-feet tall. That's its real size. Clearly, nothing that's any smaller than that can produce a sound wave that is that big in the air. So nothing really produces that 32-foot bass sound except things like a 32-foot organ pipe, or a 32-foot column of speakers. Okay, that's physics. What we built was a physical model of sound, and it worked. But it's the wrong direction for what the world is involved in right now. You can't use that much stuff. You can't use that much power. You can't try to brute-force information out, and that's what that model had to do with.
Now, our small in-house technical wing is working on a different model, the problem solving level of "How do you get a sound out that works?" We're dealing with it as psycho-acoustic phenomena, rather than as physics. Fundamentally, our model would be: As little as possible having the greatest possible effect.

The Grateful Dead movie is currently making the rounds. What was your original concept for that?

I didn't have one. Basically, though, I wanted it to have a certain look. I wanted elegantly framed, seamless photography going on onstage. I didn't want a lot of shots of the floor from an onstage point of view. And I wanted a sort of roughness to the general quality of everything else. That was the only original conception. It wasn't a concept in terms of form or anything because I knew I couldn't depend on it.
As far as I was concerned, filming five nights was a gamble. The possibility was that we would ideally have a good night in the five...so let's go for broke. But the only way we'll get it is if everybody shoots all the time.
I ended up with like 150 hours of film, and so, after about four hours of synching it up, I started looking at it, and looking at it.

Were you the one band member who really rode it?

Yeah, it was really my project, more than anybody else's. The band invested some in it, but it was basically my investment. That got to be my project during that period of time. It was an education for me, and a lot of things came out of it.

A lot of people were disappointed with the Steal Your Face album, which documented those same concerts.

I thought it was horrible... Phil and Owsley took the tapes and went to L.A. They came back, and that was it.

How can a band, who hand-checked the vinyl presses and built one of the world's most ambitious sound systems, allow themselves to put out LPs with such dubious production values, and with the buck stopping right here? It was your own record company's product.

Well, I didn't really care. Phil was down there to mix it, but in reality he deferred to Owsley. One of the things about the record, that probably nobody even knows, is that it's really a QS-encoded disc, although it doesn't call attention to itself. It sounds a little better on a quadrophonic system. That always represents a certain amount of weirdness when you play it back [in] stereo, 'cause you're combining left-right right-left.

Even the choice of performances stumped those who'd been there...

I didn't think it was very good either, but again, Phil wanted to go through the tapes. He wanted to pick out what he liked. So he picked out what he liked for his own reasons. If anyone wants to have some concept of what Phil likes, that's a good album. And my feelings about it as a Grateful Dead project are: whenever anyone says "Hey man, I want to do this," they can do it. We don't interfere with each other on that level.
So, none of us liked it. I'm sure even Phil and Owsley didn't like it that much. But, there it was. I think part of it was that we were not working, and we didn't have anything else to deliver. This was the only taped stuff that we had to deal with. So, that's what we used. Their choice of stuff was not my choice of stuff.

And there's no direct relationship to the film soundtrack?

Absolutely not, except that it comes from the same time zone. I have no plans to release the film's soundtrack, though. It would just make things confusing, and I don't care to go back to that time again. I spent 2-1/2 years in Winterland '74, and I've learned all there is to know about that.

The soundtrack is some of the best live recording I've ever heard.

Well, Healy and I worked on the film. We're the architects of that, and that was where we had our first chance to dry-run these ideas. What we've done is to go into a studio situation, where they have a rolled-off Voice of Theatre speaker - that doesn't go below 80 cycles  down and doesn't go above (maybe pushing it) a 9 kz on top - so that's a limited band-range. What we wanted to do was create the illusion of broad spectrum sound. We wanted to create the illusion of volume, although what we're dealing with is like 40 watt amplifiers. Any rock'n'roll guitarist has more power in one guitar than a theatre has. So, dealing with these givens, how do you get maximum efficiency out of a really second-rate system, utilizing what's there - utilizing that space, and the humans that are involved? That film is our first hint at answers to those problems; that's our directionality.

In assembling the film, did you gain many insights into the dynamics of the band?

I learned a lot about the dynamics of the whole situation. I learned about it in the sense that when you're dealing with real resonant material, where people that you've known for years are in it, and there's lots of people you don't know but who're obviously involved, all that...it changed my outlook towards the whole thing. It gave me a greater sense of the unique value of the Grateful Dead, which is something of which I've been aware but haven't known how to express effectively and don't care to. It either is, or it isn't.

Do you think the film conveys it?

The film works very well on the contour of it; its energy is a good movie example of the Grateful Dead experience. It's a translation of that idea, both coming from what it's like for me - in my head, as abstract ideas, nonspecific images - and what it's like for anybody.
So the movie works for me. I can watch it and get a pretty good buzz - "Hey, far out. That's an interesting thing." That's what I tried to make happen there. In terms of the flow of it, the first part (after the animation) has a roughness - it's a little fuzzy, a little hot, and not really gathered. Then, later on, the whole thing composes itself, until finally the cinematography is really incredible. In the second half, the clarity comes in. And that's a way of expressing that thing: when you go out there and play, at first, things are confusing. It's noisy, you're still trying to tune up, and the whole first half is like settling into something...using that kind of energy to pick up on the restlessness of the whole thing.

What were your release plans for the film?

Well, we didn't really have any. I was just involved in making the movie, and then we had any number of possibilities. We found out that the movie business is even more of a fraud than the record business, if that's possible. You virtually can't win on a distribution deal; it's almost built in that you lose money. My original conception before we made the film was not to distribute it at all, but to deal with it as though it were a concert in a can. As I started working, though, that idea gradually evaporated.
I realized that the experience is a movie experience. You have to deal with it like a movie. You can't make a six-hour movie - people will die. So all these things were constantly changing. But now, it's surprising. It's both things and neither.

How well has it been doing?

It's gonna pay for itself. It's no Rocky, no Star Wars, but we don't have many prints. We're pyramiding out. The thing of controlling quality in movies is really a joke. You have even less control than in almost any other medium. So the thing is to make personal contacts with people who could dig the movie, have the equipment, and the audience. We're picking up dates as we go. The relationship we have is like with a promoter: guarantee versus a percentage.
We haven't gotten into European distribution yet, but I think the film will go to the London Film Festival, and we'll try to set something up.

Would you ever sell it to TV?

No. There are some experiences with which I'm involved that I would just as soon TV never got a hold of. I don't like it because of its low experience value. In terms of "Does something happen to you?" - about the most that happens is that sort of pre-hypnotic zonk, and that's about the same, regardless of content...the cool medium.

The movie is in many ways an artifact; a record of the band, at a certain point in time that may be more fascinating in ten years.

Well, it's not going anywhere; that was a part of the original idea - that, at the absolute worst, we would have a record of an event, which at that point, might have never happened again. In that case, that particular kind of event hasn't happened. It's a different band.

* * *

How did your writing relationship with Hunter evolve? You wrote lyrics on the first album.

A little bit. Hunter and I had been friends for some years, but he was out of the area, in L.A. for a long time, and then in New Mexico. I didn't see him during most of our first year. After our first record, I got together with Hunter, spent a day, and I knew that he wrote. That's what he did. After that, our working together seemed a very obvious, natural thing to do.

Hunter told me that when he presents you with a lyric, you ask him not to play the tunes to which he has developed his words. Do you try to give him much notion of what you're looking for?

It depends. Initially, I would just get words from him, and I would make an effort to set them as they were. I wasn't interested in interfering with them. Two examples: Aoxomoxoa is our first really concerted songwriting stuff. "Cosmic Charlie" is something for which I had a melody and changes, that I wanted to become something. I'd play a phrase at a time, and he'd write something, and I'd say, "No, no," and he'd go through his stuff looking for fragments. We just finally put something together that was designed to fit into the music. Then, with a song like "Doin' That Rag," the lyrics were all there, and I just invented a form to allow that to happen.
Both of them are unsuccessful songs. Most of the songs on that record are. "China Cat Sunflower" is another of 'em. "China Cat" is as he wrote it, unchanged by me. My interference, at a linguistic level, was non-existent.
At first, maybe we both had a bit too much mutual politeness. Also, we didn't exactly know what we were doing. Songwriting is a craft that takes a little while to pick up. So after the first album, we realized - I did empirically, through trying to perform - that you can't fuckin' sing those tunes. There's no place to breathe. They're too rangy. The concentration, the emphasis, linguistically, is funny. People could hear the words, but they could never understand them. So, it was, "What we're after is a little economy," and gradually, we began to find out what is involved in the craft of songwriting.
As that went on, it got to be more organic. The way it is now, Hunter may say, "I got a new song." I'll say, "Far out," and set it as is. Or, I may suggest numerous changes. We'll talk about it and he'll say, "Okay." Or, if I come up with one that's too lame, he'll say,
"No, that's no good, try this." By now we both know that we want to get a good song out of it.

Hunter says that he writes some lyrics that he knows you won't sing.

That's true. That has to do with him and me. He knows my taste, and philosophically, there are certain limbs that I won't go out on, just because I don't feel like I can say it with any competence. There is no rule we haven't broken though. Like, "New Speedway Boogie" is a totally topical song, and that's never been something I've been involved in. It's something I don't even like.
I sing songs for the persona of the singer. I do them for what the experience is like to stand up in front of people and want to be the song. I can't sing a song unless it resonates for me on some level.

Which have the strongest resonance?

The ones I keep doing, and sometimes they'll surprise me. Sometimes I'll dig up something from the past and find out, "Far out, this song is much nicer than I thought it was." But ideally, the best thing is a kind of nonspecific emotional involvement with it - either the subject matter, or even one line in it can do it sometimes. But for me it's the sense of sympathy. I can't lie. I can't get up and sing something that I don't feel some sense of relationship to. That's pretty wide open, but I think the ones that are longest-lived are the ones that are least specific.

Which songs feel too dated to perform any longer? For instance, when "Eyes of the World" was released, it caught flak from critics for being "hippy-dippy." Hunter said he agreed, but that, after all, the lyric was five years old when you got around to using it. The song is dated, but you still do it.

I'll tell you why. That had been sitting around my desk for years. I would notice it and think, "That is such a nicely conceived thing, all the ideas and the way they're linked together." I tried all different ways of setting it to music, none of which I liked very much. Finally I thought of a good way to do it, and it was like, it didn't matter to me whether it was dated or not. It was an idea that was there, and whenever I did it, I knew I had to do it. It was already in my head, so it didn't matter what the sense of it was, or whether it communicated that idea to anybody or not. That doesn't really matter to me either. What does matter, is that I can sing the song and get off on it, even if I don't speak English.

How do you feel about Hunter's solo work?

I love it. We're quite different, but he knows when he gets 'em, when they're right on. They're rough and all that, the work of a nonperformer, but they have... It might just be that he's a real good friend of mine, and I dig to hear him sing. I like to hear him say that stuff. I think I might get off on his stuff even if I didn't know him, even if he wasn't my friend. It might still do that to me. But I dig it. It's what I like about working with him. It's what I like about him really.

Workingman's Dead and American Beauty are generally regarded as the highpoint of your collaboration with Hunter. The music was much sparser. There was more economy in the lyrics, and more storytelling. Did you experience those albums as a high point?

Well, depends on the songs.
I thought "Cumberland Blues" was a-goin' in too many directions at once, musically. The lyrics are tight. I thought "Casey Jones" was a real good song. That's one of our whizbam numbers. "Uncle John's Band" is a little bit wordy. I think I would go for a little more lean if I were rewriting that, but it had a nice melodic contour, and it still performs really well. I think "Black Peter" is a beautiful song. It has beautiful lyrics. "High Time" is a beautiful song, but I don't think our performance on the record was very good. It's a better song than we performed it.

Those albums were much more accessible and commercial than your previous efforts - in a way, the first step towards studio albums that were clearly distinct in aim from live Dead performances.

It was the thing of "back to basics," in terms of record making, 'cause we're never going back to basics in terms of performing. For a while we did acoustic stuff, but even that was pretty ornate. It was the back-to-basics point of view for record making purposes, just because we didn't want to spend half our lives in the studio making a record that we wouldn't even get off on when it came out.

Well, did you get off on those albums?

No. I got off on making 'em.

You don't listen to them much?

No. What I listen to at home is the most recent gig, usually, and it's like a progress report. It's a way to know whether I'm going south, or why is my fingering getting all fucked up. You know - "are we playing shitty and thinking we're great?" or what - all those things. It's another look, a chance to get away from it and find out. It's proof, 'cause I can't trust my perceptions in terms of the now of when we're playing.

Hunter admitted that he had been pretty dissatisfied with the albums following Europe '72. He felt Blues for Allah...

That was an experiment. I like it as an experiment; in terms of the life experience of making that record, it was really a boon.

You put Hunter in an unusual position by bringing him to write the lyrics after the music had been laid down.

I put everybody in one. We all went on the trip of, "Well, we're gonna make a record, and we're gonna go into the studio with no preconceptions, and with no material." Since we were recording at Weir's house, we didn't have to worry about it.
So mostly, it was a chance to let us hang out together, and let ideas evolve from absolute coldness, from absolutely nothing, to a completely untested situation all the way through. In other words, we're not taking the material, and putting it together, and then everybody learning the tunes, and then everybody going out and performing - 'cause we're not performing. We were gonna just spend six months mulling over stuff.

In the past, did you generally test new stuff before recording?

Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. Some of the best tunes we never recorded.

Would you ever return to them?

I'm not into looking back. I don't know whether I would have the stomach to go into the studio and do something that we've been doing - even though people have suggested it time and again. There's a lot of things that I would like to go back and re-mix. There's a lot of things that I would love to be able to go back and fix everything, and make it the way it was supposed to be.

What are the things that gall you most that you let out?

Jesus, all of them. I can't even listen to a record without thinking,  "Holy shit, now why did I do that?" But it's crazy. That's one of the reasons I don't dwell on it.

But there was a period of solo albums and group albums that were on your own label - where you were functioning with total artistic control.

Complete artistic control is one of those things. The most I've ever had was on my first solo alum, and it was complete because I did it all. Now that's complete artistic control.

Would you make any changes on that album?

Maybe some re-performing; better bass parts, or things like that, looking back, I realize my handle on that was a little sketchy. At the time I was so much into, "I want to move as fast as I possibly can, because I'm in a situation where I don't have to disagree with anybody about anything. I don't have to wait for anything to happen. I can work as fast as I want." So, that's what I did.
I tend to be a little bit looser. I tend to think, "Eh, it's good enough." That's one of my big failings. I can do that really easy. I mean, records don't mean that much to me. They never have.

I'd like to turn to the Dead's rhythms. Hunter claimed he was often dumbfounded by the rhythms the group chose for his songs. There is an identifiable lumbering - sort of narcotized elephant stomp - but I've heard that quickening and tightening in recent concerts. Do you bring tunes to the band with the rhythms worked out?

I do a lot of times, but a lot of times it's poorly understood. I've learned a lot rhythmically in the last couple of years, so I'm better able to communicate my rhythmic ideas now. But for a long time, I would have a sense of feeling for the thing, and everybody would try to do what I was trying to tell them to do, but it wouldn't be what I wanted. There are some notable exceptions, straight-forward things, but a lot of times you have elusive feelings.
One of the things that makes the Grateful Dead interesting is that it's incredibly dissonant. Everybody in the band is so different - we couldn't be more different. So I can almost expect that when I put forward an idea, what everyone will play will be incredibly different from what I had imagined. They'll usually surprise me on that level. There have been times when that has really made me flip out. If I thought a piece of material was too delicate, and suddenly there's some weird idea stuck into it - Holy Fuck!
In the last two or three years, everyone has gotten really good, and their ability to make their own ideas work had improved as well. So now I look forward to the thing of seeing what Weir is going to come up with on my tunes, 'cause he always comes up with something neat. So all that is part of the surprise. I enjoy that.

* * *

How would you describe the state of the band now? There's the new LP, a new label, and for the first time, a producer.

I think the band is in a real good place. This is our best buzz for a long time. It's like new beginnings.

Did Arista suggest that you use a producer?

No, it was just, "What the fuck, we've tried everything else." It worked real good.

How did you search for the right man?

We listened to records, took advice, talked to people. I think there's a tendency now, a growth pattern in the record business, that when someone's a real good engineer or studio musician, everyone wants to graduate to be a producer. So there are a lot more musicians who are producers. It used to be that producers were nontechnical, nonmusical beings. So what good were they?

On what basis did you pick Keith Olsen?

The Fleetwood Mac LP, and Weir spent a little time talking to him.
If a producer is working with a solo artist, then he's designing the album from top to bottom; he has control of the musicians who are playing. That's a level of production that you can do really well. When you're producing a group, you're dealing with the interior dynamics of the group. There's a lot to it. You have to be psychologically involved; you have to be emotionally involved. You have to know what's going on, and you have to be on top of it. Olsen is a real good producer, as far as I'm concerned.

But you didn't take a decisive role in choosing him?

No, I've never been particularly active in decision-making. It isn't my trip. I encourage things, and sometimes I get into crazy trips, like the movie and so forth. Then I just do them, and I try not to get too many people involved. If it's too stretched out, everybody gets involved anyway.
Usually the decision-making process in the Grateful Dead is kind of, "The most negative vote is the carrying vote." If someone has strong negative feelings about something, we won't do it. So that's generally what carries the day. We hardly ever make affirmative, positive choices.

Did Clive Davis have firm ideas for your career in mind?

It's fortunate that we've gone to such lengths to at least say that we preserve our integrity, 'cause Clive is as concerned with that as we are, maybe even more so. He's very delicate. He wouldn't ever insist on handling us in any way. He made a few suggestions, and Olsen was one of the guys he suggested, so...
When we started working with Arista, we did it thinking, "What the fuck, it'll be nice to be involved with a record company, and not have to be doing the marketing ourselves, not have to do distribution" - just getting that held off.
So, fundamentally, we were in the space of, "Let's just make music, and let's go into it as far as we can." So the idea of having a producer was tied into that same idea.

Joel Selvin wrote a piece in the Chronicle that quoted Olsen to the effect that "after working with studio musicians, it was a great struggle dealing with the band's technical incompetence."

I don't know exactly what Olsen means. What Keith Olsen did, and the only way he could have worked with the Grateful Dead was this: he spent some time with us while we were rehearsing. He didn't call rehearsals; we were rehearsing. He came up, and hung out, and got high with us; listened to the music. He carefully notated what was going on, paid attention to what was going on, learned the changes; learned our music.
Then we would go over the tunes, and if there were things that he felt were conflicting or contradictory, he would make suggestions. His suggestions were usually not along the lines of, "Why don't you do this?" They were along the lines of, "What's happening right in there?" Then we would replay the section, and I'd say, "Right, I don't need to play this," or Weir would say, "I'll just play this other inversion here." It was like that. He provided an exterior, uninvolved ear to help hear what the music is supposed to be doing - what the sense of the song was, how it's supposed to work.

Terrapin Station sounds a lot different from the band live, or previous studio records. "Dancin in the Streets" sounds almost like Silver Connection. Disco Dead?

It's just the same as the "Dancin" we're doing live. It's slower, but that's just 'cause it's the right tempo. The way we do it live is usually so wired. Weir has a way of doing his songs so fast. He counts them off, and you can't really do anything about it. When it's on, it's on, and when you've got two drummers pounding away back there man, you just go with it or you get rolled over.

What put the brakes on when you were recording?

It felt better. It felt more right in terms of making the lyrics make sense, the phrasing, the licks, and everything. It sounds like a joke when it's going that fast on a record. It doesn't work.

The tune that follows that, "Passenger," sounds like glossy rock'n'roll. It's much more L.A.-sounding than anything you've done before.

That's true. That's what Phil wanted.

What do you think? Does it sound like the Dead to you?

It's a trip. (chuckles) Look, I don't have any preconceptions of what the Dead sounds like.

You've been playing with these guys for ten years...

It's still the same guys. We all play together, just like we used to.

In a recent issue of Variety, you said, "Music today is suffering from a lack of individualism; it's getting mechanistic." How does this album respond to that?

Well, that's what we did; we went to L.A. and we did it their way. However, I don't think there's anybody who can say that the music on the second side of that record is mechanistic. And I don't think anyone can say that a reggae tune in 7/4 time is...well, there's some weird shit on that record, is all I can say.

How was the LP planned?

Well, "Terrapin," even from the inception, was clearly a side, and orchestrated. We had a lot of material. There were two or three tunes that didn't make it on to the album.

Hunter noted that "Terrapin" felt like a direct transmission; a special tune, like "St. Stephen," "Uncle John's Band," or "Stella Blue."

Yeah.

Yet he said that he gave you ten pages, and what we hear is page one and some of ten.

No, it's page one, some of two, and some excerpts from stage three. I have two other tunes which we set and are part of "Terrapin," which we'll probably perform.
Actually, "Terrapin" is a long unfinished work, and maybe I'll finish it, maybe not. Hunter has written a complete thing, but I find it cumbersome. I edit it liberally, except for the first song, which I thought was perfect. The rest is edited drastically.

"Lady with a Fan" gives the impression that it's about to introduce an epic, which never arrives. The piece becomes largely musical.

That's right, and that's because Mickey had these two compositions that were nonspecific in nature, and were nothing really but rhythm and bass lines. So that was what the content was.

What about "Flyer," the samba a la Weather Report?

That's Mickey's, which started with the bass and drums. When I heard that stuff, I realized that there was a key relationship to the stuff I'd written for "Terrapin," and I felt there was a good possibility that the tunes could be made a part of the "out" - the places where, playing live, we can instrumentally go out; they are roots.

It begins sounding like English progressive groups, like Genesis, or Yes...

Yeah.

Do you like that kind of music?

Not particularly. (laughs) I'm sorry that I wasn't able to go with Keith to London for the orchestration. It'll never happen again, because I felt that the orchestration was a little overripe, and I felt that better lines could have been come up with than that weird samba line. Luckily, most of it turned out successfully, so I don't mind it too much.

Are you ready to enjoy the notion of studio and live Dead sounds as separate works?

I've always enjoyed that notion. (laughs) The reality is a whole other matter. It's one of those things. The Grateful Dead is a complicated dynamic organization, and everybody has strong opinions about everything. So, there's no point in my making predictions about the Dead, 'cause it's always gonna be the result of a group move.

Hunter mentioned that one idea for "Terrapin" entails keeping the original text and setting it to your musical ideas progressively, as they change and develop.

That's right. It's one of the ideas I'm prepared to deal with, and I've gone compositionally in that direction.

Are you responsible for the Elizabethan-Star Wars sound?

A little bit. It's suggested in the music. The orchestration is abstracted from the music. In other words, the little counter-point - a little woodwind quintet counter-point - is deriving the rhythmic contour and the inter-pulse in the little melody they play there. They are getting it from Phil's bass part. That's what he plays during the break - this weird counter-point.
Paul Buckmaster [who orchestrated "Terrapin"] has very good ears and he's very tasteful. The horn parts and the string parts in that whole "Terrapin" melody are exactly the voicings that I play on the guitar. In the last part, the reprise of "Terrapin," my guitar is not in there at all. Instead, I use all the orchestra parts that play my guitar parts. So that's them being me. That's the orchestrated version of me.
That decision was made on Keith's return, but we had discussed this before he left; the intent, what was going to happen, what kind of voices were going to carry what lines, and so forth. We actually sketched the ideas pretty thoroughly.
I think the weakest one is "Terrapin Flyer," just because there were none of us there to be able to work with it. And I think that it came out being something for sure, and it has a drive and tension that it's designed to have. Fundamentally, it's designed as a vehicle for the percussionists. That's their spot, and the percussion is incidental almost. But the way it drives and the way it works is a fair compromise. It could be better, but everything always could be better. The mix - everything could have been better.

Still, you're happy...

I'm happier with this album than with any other album we've done. This album I can listen to - now that's a first. None of the stuff is alien or remote from us.

Could you see Olsen becoming a permanent invisible member of the band? He obviously has an incredible effect on your sound.

I could really dig working with him again. I don't know whether everybody else could. Weir's working with him now, and the album he's producing is gonna be like the definitive slick Hollywood album. So everybody'll get to hear that idea gone hog-wild.

Are there feelings that with different producers you can explore different areas?

Maybe, but I think that the Grateful Dead is too difficult and too clannish an entity. Keith has spent time with us. He knows what to expect. It's not a strange experience for him anymore. The getting-to-know-one-another is done, and he's as crazy as we are. He's a good guy, and a good musician. I have a lot of respect for him, and I love him a lot. I would dig to work with him. In terms of making a Grateful Dead record that works, he's a real competent guy.

In terms of artistic control though...

It was definitely cooperative, but the band had ultimate control. Olsen got vetoed frequently, and he's not a pushy guy.
Olsen knows what he's doing, and I like his presence. It would be fun to take strings and horns out on the road occasionally. I think everything is allowed. We've never spared the audience. We've played much weirder shit than is on this album - so I figure...

How will you respond if you get flak that the Dead have sold out?

Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

* Continued Next Month

* * *

GARCIA ON GARCIA '77

Publication of Part One of this interview set off a chain of accusations and clarifications that has kept my phone ringing for weeks. Most of the calls came in response to Garcia's account of the Steal Your Face saga. Garcia labeled the album "horrible," recalling that Owsley and Phil Lesh had elected to mix the tapes and that the release was the product of their work. He noted, in terms of the choice of live performances for the LP, "to have some idea of what Phil likes, that's a good album." He noted though, that nobody, Phil included, particularly liked the record.
First to call in was Owsley Stanley, one-time acid chemist to Kesey's Pranksters and technical consultant to the Grateful Dead. From legend and Tom Wolfe's account, I expected a squirrelly, paranoid gnome; but Owsley sounded quick, lucid, and self-possessed. He explained that he is presently working on figurative sculpture and exploring the possibilities of "intelligent" sculpture and jewelry, using electronic micro-elements. He noted that these days he gets stoned only to party, and enjoys being straight.
On the subject of Steal Your Face, he noted "Jerry's story was pretty straight as far as it went, but some misconceptions could arise. You see, Phil and I were given tapes recorded by a guy who was flippin' out at the time. Unlike the Old And In The Way album, this was not my recording work. These tapes were incredible; Donna's tracks were missing, Phil Lagen wasn't recorded [sic], and there were weird noises all over them.
"Phil and I hated that stuff, and didn't want to work on it, but Ron Rakow (former president of Round Records) insisted that he had to have them mixed in nine days - which was inconceivable. We worked for 18 days and tried using delays, filters, tricks, to overcome the sound - but the job was next to impossible. I'm very fussy with quality, and I thought the 'finished' work was garbage, but Rakow was demanding it. He needed to collect this check for $275,000 which was for debts, expenses, and the movie. Rakow took that check, though, pocketed it, and split - brazen as a hawk.
"Everyone was fed up. Steal Your Face was the title Phil felt best conveyed it," Owsley noted. "Jerry will never say a bad thing about Rakow, or anyone else. I think he's gullible."
Ron Rakow, reached via his lawyer in Connecticut, had another tale to tell. He said that the check in question was based on totally separate negotiations, which only coincided in time, to some extent, with the submission of the concert tapes. He didn't deny that he had left the band abruptly with a large sum of money, but said, "I didn't like the way they treated me. I felt ripped off, and I wanted to make sure they felt totally ripped off, and I think they did. The money was an incidental prop to what I did. It was an interesting experiment. Money is pretty important, even to people who claim not to hold it in high regard."
Later, Allen Trist, head of publicity for The Dead, told me that the band had no particular desire to "air old linen," but that Rakow's account didn't square with his knowledge of the incident. He said, "Rakow needed that advance check to complete the movie - so we thought - but the day after he got the tapes he was gone with the money. He was running the business, and we didn't learn until later the extent to which he was lining his own coffers."
Rakow had said of Steal Your Face that "Owsley is encouraging confusion over this thing, probably out of sour grapes because he's so short. Steal Your Face is so bad that I've never been able to understand it. Owsley and Phil went down to the most sophisticated studio, and spent a lot of money, and had the best material, and brought back that piece of shit. This stuff about being rushed is all ethereal bullshit. You can always blame the business cat, but he can't rip the tape out of someone's hands, or put the sounds on it."
Phil Lesh responded to that with a call at 5:30 a few nights ago, He was having breakfast. "Pressure was on," he insisted. "We owed United Artists the product, and I relied on Rakow's word. He says we had 'good material.' Look, Rakow wouldn't know good material if it came up and pissed on his shoe. He'd hired the engineer, and the tapes were incredible. We had 16 tracks and the bass drum was reading over at +3 (in the red on the v.u. meter) and everything else was reading -20, down into tape noise. That album would never have been released if we hadn't needed the money for the film."
As for his choice of performances, he noted, "Jerry forgot to mention that I had decided on an approach of not releasing any tunes that had already appeared on a live album. I think given the material, we made two mistakes: first, in not having been more open in our choice of material; and secondly, attempting Q-S encoding which sounded good on tape, but didn't translate onto the disc."
Owsley also had some remarks to make on sound systems and psycho-acoustics. He explained that his original notion for the massive p.a. demanded that each sound source be specific, and unique, to the instrument which drives it. Lack of funds had prematurely scrapped that plan. He said that "psycho-acoustics" might work in small halls like Winterland, but never in the larger settings that the earlier system was designed for. He also pointed out that the film's soundtrack had been improved with extensive vocal over-dubbing. That, again, Garcia had failed to mention.
Lesh pointed out that sound is equalized in totally different ways for films and records, and that the original shoddy tapes were much better suited to the limited range to which a film soundtrack is confined. He also noted that "the 'phase-panning' that Jerry and Healy used in the film is a direct outgrowth of the work Bear (Owsley) and I did with John Neal - based on ideas written up by Dr. W. Haas in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society."
Deadline pressures, unfortunately, left me no time to phone Dr. Haas for his account.
In other late breaking news: both Garcia and Weir have solo albums due in early '78. Ron Tutt, who worked on Garcia's LP, has returned to L.A. and session work. He has been replaced, at least temporarily in the touring version of the group, by Buzz Buchanan, formerly of the Silver Spurs. Whether the group will be known as the Jerry Garcia Band or as the Mystery Cats is still subject to some debate. Robert Hunter's long-awaited follow-up to Tiger Rose is near completion, and he will be appearing, backed by Comfort, on some bills with Garcia's outfit.
Two largely invisible members of the Dead organization proved invaluable aid in both my research and in tracking down responsible, and irresponsible, parties. Indeed, these articles would never have been possible without the patient and able assistance of Richard Loren's assistant Sue Steven, and, particularly, Eileen Law, who acts as liason between the Dead and their fans. My deepest thanks to them both. 


You're doing solo work again.

We're trying to make a record, the Jerry Garcia Band, but I don't like the responsibility of that name. An important part of my musical directionality is working with John Kahn and Ron Tutt. There's a thing that we have going - a special chemistry. During your life, you look for people who play the way you hear - in your ideal band, in your mind - and we have a collection of three of us. Donna fits in. Keyboards have always been a problem. The match is intuitive. Whereas the Grateful Dead has a lot of dissonance, which makes it interesting, this band has lots of consonance. For me, it's [a] very important developmental thing. It represents the "fine-tuning" side of playing - the real refinement on every level, and that's very important to me.

You do a lot of Dylan live.

I do 'em 'cause it's part of a body of American music that I really like. Lyrically I can get next to 'em, and that's my motivation, musically, period.

Does this band give you more control?

Actually, too much. I'd just as soon not have decision-making control, but luckily everyone in the band has a strong personality and a leader concept. John and Ron both have strong personalities and ideas. I don't desire the control, I'd just as soon have the opposite; everything happening.

Will the Garcia Band LP have a producer?

John, Ron, and I have had a lot of experience in the studio, and John, who has worked with them all, doesn't like any of them. So, that's a big bias. We're not looking for guidance, but I think Olsen would be fun to work with, with this band. But I think if the music is performed properly, and recorded properly, it won't be necessary.

In working with Hunter, how do you decide which tunes will go to a solo project, or to the Grateful Dead? Is there ever a conflict, and do you approach them differently?

Well, the way they get performed is definitely different. The way they get performed is more consonant with the [Garcia] band. I don't have to worry about something being misinterpreted. We all think similarly musically, and have a tremendous musical affinity for the tunes, even when they're weird.

Do you try to play with both bands even-handedly?

Yeah, I intend to play with both. The band has been playing several years. Over time, this has become something we're definitely committed to. Ron played with Elvis, John isn't tied down. We hope to take the group to Europe, maybe in '78.

Can you say something about your approach to your different solo LPs?

I've gone into them with various kinds of spirit. The first one, I just wanted to do everything myself, just for the fun of it. I had a couple of songs, and some ideas, so I had a chance to do things - electronic things, just some weirdness. I still like "EEP Hour," even how. All that stuff works. It's real successful, and the way I'd hoped it would be. It was a self-indulgent project, you might say.
John Kahn produced the next one. I thought it would be fun to just turn myself over, and let myself be a performer. He picked the tunes, everything, and I dig it. It was easy. The next one was Reflections; I had more material coming up as we were finishing Blues For Allah, so the Grateful Dead was still working, and we were having a lot of fun. So, we went ahead and recorded some other things - some other tracks. I wanted to do the rest of it with John and Ron. We fell in with Nicky Hopkins, who didn't turn out to be the right guy, really. The whole project was a bit muddled. But, on the whole, I liked the way it worked. I wasn't too dissatisfied.

Do you have a fantasy for this next one?

I'm thinking of it as being more playing, not having elaborate overdubs - just good vocals, and relatively straight-ahead playing. The material is neat; it supports it. There are songs I've been working on - on and off - for quite a while, like I did on "Eyes of the World." There's a story that's been hanging around called, "Reuben and Charisse." It's been unfinished for a long time.
Another is the most immediate - sequentially next - composition after "Terrapin." It's called "Cats Under the Stars," which is the name of the album. And for me, it's a continuation of that kind of a direction. The kind of ideas I've been having are different than the kinds of ideas I used to have. They tend to be orchestral. They're in the nature of harmonies: lines moving against each other. They're more dense, and they have more happening in them.

I understand the Dead may do a free concert overseas...

Yeah, we're hoping to go over with Bill Graham for a one-shot. We'd do a free concert in the Bay Area in a minute if we could get the cooperation.
It's discouraging how little response we can get for the idea anywhere. People seem to have the idea equated with badness, for reasons we can only half understand. People are afraid for it to happen. What the fuck can you do? It's part of what's unreasonable and what's out-of-whack with the world, as far as I'm concerned.

In the film we see you playing on Haight Street ten years ago...

Haight Street had been hassling the city to close off traffic on weekends, so people could walk around - you know, one of those "people's street" statements. So, they finally got it and we said "let's go down and play on Haight Street." We got a couple of flat bed trucks, and we just drove up and set 'em up. No permit. It was great. Everybody had a great time. You could do stuff like that in those days. You can't anymore; not us anyway.

What about the bandshell?

They'd never let us. It'd draw too many people. It's interesting; I can't quite grasp it. I think it's the fear that permeates lots of people's behavior these days. They're more afraid than anything else. I don't really know why.

The Dead are perceived by a lot of people as this fabulous sort of crazed, communal, anarchistic joke that's been perpetrated...

Well, it's all true, at least partly. But, for us, it's also our lives. So, it's somewhat more than a joke, but it's also a joke.

As you guys have grown up and paired off, and moved off to live separately, how does the notion of the "Grateful Dead family" survive?

It's still pretty effective. It's at the point of effectiveness where we don't have any control over it. It's the society that we're members of. It's undeniable. Shit, we've been together for 12 years. That's a long time, and the reason has been because of lots of things. We've gone through lots of experiences that are unique, and been exposed to lots of things. I mean really, in terms of being completely comfortable and completely open, we can only do that with each other...just because we've been made a little too weird for just about everybody.

Do you think that you've cut yourselves off?

We always did. We always were a little bit different from everybody else. We never were big flag wavers. We never went in for that "up against the wall" space. You know what I mean. They're all things that we weren't involved with, weren't interested in. We've been through a lot of changes, but I think we've been dealing with another level of stuff that - maybe you can describe it as magic - something different than things like politics.

In your music?

It's just something that happened to us. I'm not sure what it's in. It's just something that humans want to have happen, and we're part of a feedback situation. We postulated the idea of the Grateful Dead: "Well, how about the Grateful Dead?" Okay, so that percentage of the world that could dig the Grateful Dead said, "Yeah, okay." So, "Right - we'll be that." So it's forming us. We're forming it.

How about success?

[laughter]

Hunter mentioned his feeling that the band suffered, after having been graced with the position of underdogs for the longest time, in finding itself, after the release of Europe '72, no longer confronted with that battle to fight, and consequently growing aimless, in the face of both financial freedom and the expectations of a buying public ready for whatever came out...

Well, I've never felt that. I've always been surprised that anybody ever bought anything. So I've never had any real expectations, and what goes on out there doesn't really color what I'm involved with too much. I mean, I'm the one who has to sit down and spend x amount of hours playing the guitar, or otherwise my chops are not together and I don't like what I'm doing. Nothing in the world is gonna make me enjoy it if I don't like it. No amount of cheering, or any of it. I can't live with that. Somebody else maybe could, but I can't. I'm just constitutionally unable to.
That's the most important thing to me, that experience: being onstage, playing music, and having it be good. If it isn't good, I would just as soon die. I mean, yank me away. I wouldn't want to face anybody. I live from that moment to that moment.

And commercial success is totally outside...

We never experienced any commercial success.

Jerry...

We've been able to make a living.

You had the capital to begin actualizing fantasies [of] the record company...

Well, our original capital for the record company was like two thousand bucks.

Then you had a lot of raw nerve.

Yeah, well that's our scene - raw nerve, 'cause we've never been ahead on that level of having a large surplus, or anything like that - oil investments, or the normal things that people think about in accumulating wealth.

Do you ever think about having a hit single?

Sure, every time we've made a record, I've pretty much thought, "this thing is really gonna make it." Just 'cause, why would you do something you didn't like?

You thought you had a single on Blues for Allah?

I thought there was a possibility that "The Music Never Stopped" would make a good single. But I don't know what a good single is. I don't even care at this point. But there have been times.
I definitely thought "Casey Jones" would've been a good single. But at that time nothing about dope [chuckle] could...and that kind of thing has been the case all along. I've never had a lot of drive towards producing singles in that sense. It doesn't mean much to me. Records don't mean that much to me, period.

What about the Dead's extended family, the Deadhead cults? Is that the kind of following you're most comfortable with? People are bound to see working with Olsen as an attempt to cross-over to a larger audience, and perhaps betray your cult.

Well, I don't really relate to a cult. As far as I'm concerned, the Grateful Dead is something that I relate to in my life. I take it a little more seriously than I do other things. I trust it. I've spent a lot of time with it.
I'm real skeptical. I'm really in that space, and it's one of the few things I can dig. It's because there is a fundamental concept of freedom, and a lot that isn't visible. Frankly, it wouldn't matter if every fan that we've ever had turned their backs on us at this point and said, "Aw - Fuckin' Grateful Dead." It wouldn't matter, 'cause it's not the substance of it.

How do you deal with the fascination and fantasies attached to you? All those folks who have to see [line missing] of you?

I don't know. I don't dwell on it. I don't let it affect me. I don't like to be made conscious of it, and most people have been kind enough not to throw it in my face. I don't get a lot of static. I don't get a lot of shit. I can move around. People know and recognize me, but our attitude towards the audience has never been a particularly elitist one, so I don't think people think of us as being very much different than them, and we're not.
So on that level, it's never been too weird, never been real uncomfortable. The worse it gets is incorrect, and that's just a matter, if you have the time, and it's simple enough, you make an effort to correct it; say, "ah, no, I'm sorry, that's a misunderstanding, what I really meant to say was..." And I try to qualify things as much as possible.
As far as my responsibility, I'm anxious not to mislead anybody, because really, what I do is play music - that's what I do. That's what I care about. And if I'm gonna go down, or up, or in any direction; take me there in that direction. Let that be my voice. I don't value my ideas very highly, and they change all the time. I don't have that kind of self-image.

You seem more involved with playing regularly, be it with your small group, in clubs, or with the Dead, than most major musicians. One reason you gave for closing down the Dead was that concerts were getting too big...

No, it was getting too hard; the largeness of it was hard, the number of people we had to have working. The amount of responsibility was just too hard on everybody.

Do you think of how you and the band will confront the next 20 years or so? Can you see the geriatric Dead? You don't run up against the problems of a Jagger, in maintaining that athleticism and youthful image, but can you see limitations on the band's longevity?

I think we're involved with something that's at least interesting enough to keep doing it for a long time, until we can't do it very well. Then it probably won't be fun to do it. Then, there'll be some new direction to move in.

Aside from the LPs, you have no other projects now. Is that because you've been able to get most of your fantasies out of your system?

No, I think most of our fantasies we've never been able to get out of our system. That's one of the things that keeps us going. The economic realities of the execution of a fantasy; also a lot of things don't stand the test. The wearing out of an idea by living with it, and working on it, can be the death of it. It's not supposed to come to life, 'cause it would never have been that great anyway. A lot of the time that's true.
Certain other ideas have been plodding along, surviving, for so long, that they're like old familiar friends, but they're still unresolved. It might be neat to resolve them sometime, but maybe we will or won't. Right now we're seeing what happens. We're just depending on input.

What is your present regimen as a guitarist?

Well, I keep trying to improve, and I have a regular schedule of improvements, in terms of technique.

How do you practice now?

A lot of the time I spend just working out, to make sure that my chops are fluid, that I can play what I can play. Then I spend a certain amount of time, when I have it, just going into the books, looking at interesting passages, and learning different kinds of figures. For me, it's infinite. It represents a quantum leap in terms of technique and education; how you learn guitar.

Which would you recommend?

I think the best would be touching into all the different worlds there are. There are tons of great guitar books. I think the most cogent are by Howard Roberts. They're written with the greatest sense of teaching. I think you can start with one of his books, and learn how to play the guitar from nothing, and learn quite well. I'd recommend a combination of the literature, listening to records, and taking lessons.

What artists' albums do you buy these days sight unseen?

Nobody's. I've spent a lot more time in the last few years going back to people that I didn't hear. Like, Art Tatum is one of my musical heroes in terms of what it is to be an incredible extemporaneous performer.

Improvising around a structure...

And what structures - the deepest changes, the most incredible harmonic stuff. I listen to that to absorb the sense of it, like reading sentences - rather than playing along to learn licks, which is not of great interest to me now. When someone is improvising, you hear distinct personalities coming out.
In terms of kinds of music, I've been getting more interested in harmony as an idea, more interested in the formal ideas of composition. What interests me has changed its focus, but I don't have genre favorites. There was a two or three year period when I only listened to '40s and '50s gospel music. That was the only thing I listened to.

What guitarists do you admire these days?

Well, Django Reinhardt is like the model guitarist for me. There is so much passion in his playing, both in terms of invention and expressiveness, and you can feel his attitude - his emotion - in his playing.
Of my contemporaries, I've liked Pat Martino a lot and some of the work Jeff Beck is doing. It's a slightly cold approach, but I think he does it very well.

Do you feel a nostalgia for the '60s setting in?

I'm not ready for it yet. In 15 or 20 years I'll be ready to start pushing that ball around. For me, everything continues to be in the future. It isn't in the past, I've been through that.

Do you feel much sense of a San Francisco sound anymore?

No, but I never did. That was somebody else's rap. If there was a San Francisco sound, it was the rooms that people played in.

(by Adam Block, from BAM Magazine, December 1977-January 1978)
 
 
Adam Block is the West Coast correspondent for Britain's New Musical Express and has written for Boston's Real Paper, the Boston Phoenix, Creem, and other classy publications. He was called a "punk" by Jerry Pompilli one night in 1974 - long before the Ramones arrived on the Scene. He currently resides in the Haight-Ashbury.

2 comments:

  1. A lengthy interview from the bay area music magazine BAM. Block doesn't seem to have been a particular fan of the Dead, but he was an experienced pro interviewer; he'd talked to Garcia before and had done his homework in advance for this long article. As a result it's a very in-depth piece which ranges over recent Dead history, and surprisingly barely mentions what they were up to at the moment.
    The Terrapin album and Dead Movie had just come out, so there's a lot of discussion of those. But there's also a long talk about the Dead's situation in 1974, and a good section on Garcia's songwriting with Hunter. My favorite part is all the complaints about Steal Your Face, as everyone tries to blame someone else for how it turned out. The interview wraps up with a few words on Garcia's sideband & solo albums, musings about the Dead in general, and Garcia's ongoing guitar studies.

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  2. Django Reinhardt was Garcia's guitar hero. Makes sense to me!

    Nice find. The commentary before each part of the interview is interesting too.

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